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Starry nights

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Starry nights

The value of looking up

Aedan Hannon

4.12.17

As I walk back to my room, I look up into the dark night sky to see the stars peeking out between the clouds. Everyone I walk by is either on their phone or looking up at the path ahead thinking about how much work they have to do. I understand the distractions, but in my three years here at Duke I have never seen another student on campus look up to glance at the stars. Being from Colorado, I miss the clear mountain skies and the nighttime stargazing void of light pollution. Yet I still find solace in finding Orion every night in the bright skies of Durham.

The Big Dipper over Wyoming

Ninety-nine percent of people in the United States and Europe live under light-polluted skies. Here in Durham we are no exception. Very rarely do we think about light pollution and our inability to see dark skies since we are so busy with school and our social lives. Yet natural darkness is more important than we realize. In fact, the American Astronomical Society recently passed a resolution on light pollution stating that “access to a dark night sky is a universal human right, making quality outdoor lighting a worldwide imperative.” More and more cities are beginning to take a stand against light pollution in order to provide this right.
The International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit organization that is trying to battle light pollution, currently lists 15 communities throughout the United States and Europe as “Dark Sky Communities.” These communities adhere to strict guidelines to preserve dark nighttime skies. This list will continue to grow as more people are introduced to the astrotourism industry, which is devoted to helping stargazers experience the nighttime sky. Small towns throughout the West have begun to embrace the astrotourism industry, while dark-sky housing developments are beginning to become staples of rural communities. Dark-sky living is becoming a lifestyle--one that focuses on environmental stewardship and an appreciation for a natural world that isn’t directly influenced by humans.
These trends speak not only to the boom in people heading to rural areas to see stars, but more importantly they speak to the necessity for dark skies and stars. Those that have seen a clear
Milky Way know that a starry night experience can change your life. It makes you appreciate the natural world void of human presence. It grounds you. Nowhere else in the world have I felt so small in the universe, which is something we all desperately need. Dark skies and starry nights remind us that all will come to pass. Our fast-paced lives and everything that we are worried and stressed about will all be alright. On starry nights, our cares vanish in favor of an unending awe that reminds us to live day-to-day and to never take for granted what it means to be alive.
Even in the light-polluted skies of Durham, this is what we are missing when look at our phones or look at the ground while we walk. Glancing up at the stars can be a form of stress relief and daily therapy that we can take advantage of. It can even help you sleep better. Blue light from electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs disturbs sleep cycles, and has even been linked to increased cancer and heart disease risks. Looking up at the night sky instead of at your phone can be a form of preventative medicine equal to not consuming inordinate amounts of sugar or smoking cigarettes. The mental health wonders it can do for you are second to none.
So look up. Orion just might change your life.